Helms Alee’s Hozoji

Name: Hozoji Roseanne Matheson-Margullis
Age: 30 years old
Hometown: Tacoma, WA
Lives in: Tacoma, WA
Past bands: T’n’A, Nature
Current bands: Lozen, Helms Alee
Day job: Commercial Geoduck Diver for Puyallup Tribe

I have had the extreme joy of seeing Hozoji play with one of her two bands, Helms Alee. I had heard about this phenomenal woman from several people, but seeing her live surpassed any expectation I had. She is a force, and her driving of her band’s songs and rhythm is propulsive, unstoppable, preternatural. It was my great honor to speak with her over email about music and her relationship to it.
-By Katy Otto

Tom Tom Magazine: What is your relationship to/history with playing drums?
Hozoji: I started playing drums when I was 15 years old. I was lucky in that I had parents that were very supportive of my interest in music. My dad bought me my first drum kit, a late 60’s Rogers, and I still play that drum kit today. I never played drums for school but I took a year of private lessons when I first started out. That was definitely helpful, but I believe I did most of my growing from playing with other musicians. I’ve found that different people’s styles bring out different styles in my drumming. So it’s always a period of growth when I start playing with new people.

Tom Tom: How did Helms Alee form?
Hozoji: Ben and Dana began writing music together about one year before I joined. Ben and I had met years earlier when he recorded the first band I played drums in. We kept loosely in touch over the years. One day, almost 6 years ago now, he called me up to chat and we got on the subject of music. He mentioned that he’d been playing with Dana and they were having trouble finding a drummer. I had not been playing drums in a band for a few years and was itching to get back on it, so I hit him up to have me play with them. A few months later he called me back and we set up a date to jam and the rest is history 🙂

Tom Tom: Are you from the Pacific Northwest? How has that impacted or influenced you musically?
Hozoji; I was born and raised in Tacoma, WA which is where I still live today. Other then the obvious and undeniable influence of the Seattle/Olympia music scene in the 90’s, there is a strong influence from my cultural background. I am a Puyallup Tribal Native, which is a Coastal Salish Tribe here in Washington State, and grew up going to pow-wows and other tribal events with my mom and family. Music is a huge part of pretty much all Native traditions, ceremonies, and celebrations. That music is heavily rhythmic and most definitely found it’s way into my creative consciousness.

Tom Tom: What are some of the most important experiences you have had with music?
Hozoji: For some reason this question is messing with my head. It’s inducing an influx of information that I am having trouble sorting out. I can say that touring always delivers important experiences, be they good or bad. I always get home from tour feeling like a little something has changed.

Tom Tom: How long have you been playing drums?
Hozoji: 15 years

Tom Tom: I recently learned of your drum/guitar duo Lozen and was excited because I also play in a drum/guitar duo with another woman. How did that project start? Did you play guitar in other bands before that one? Can you compare some experiences of how playing in Lozen differs from playing in Helms Alee?
Hozoji: Justine (drummer in Lozen) and I met in 1996, at our freshman year in high school, and we quickly bonded over our mutual love for heavy rock music. We would lock ourselves in one of our bedrooms and air jam to the Melvins and Black Sabbath, Justine on air drums and myself on air guitar. I like to consider that to be when Lozen started, but we didn’t technically start writing music together until the spring of 2004. Justine was living in Bellingham, WA at the time and had come up with money to buy a drum kit. She called me up in Tacoma and asked me to come up and help her pick one out. We borrowed a Fender twin combo from her neighbor and jammed in her tiny apartment once every two weeks for a few months before she moved back down to Tacoma. Once she was back in the hood we started writing regularly and booking shows for ourselves. I had never played guitar in a band before Lozen. It was a new experience for both of us so we grew a lot together. Lozen and Helms Alee are two completely different feelings for me. Both bands consist of my best friends and both bands play weird rock music, but outside of that they fulfill entirely different needs. For me, drums are primal and guitar is cerebral. And I need both.

Tom Tom: What projects do you do when you aren’t touring?
Hozoji: When we aren’t touring we work on writing. Hanging out and writing songs together is the basis of all the fun that comes with being a working musician.

Tom Tom: Are you particular about gear? What do you have? What would your ideal setup be if money were no issue?
Hozoji: I am not much of a gear head. I have sort of felt my way blindly through finding out what sounds I like. As I mentioned earlier, I play the same drum kit now that I first got when I was 15 years old. I have owned several kits in between then and now but I always find myself back behind the old Rogers kit. If money were no issue I would probably seek out a super bad ass vintage drum restorer and have them restore the Rogers back to mint condition and just keep playing that kit.

Tom Tom: What was the process like recording the last Helms Alee record? It is a departure from earlier work I have heard. Also, isn’t Lozen recording at the moment? What has that been like?
Hozoji: The last Helms Alee record, Weatherhead, was made on a very tight schedule. We recorded all the drum tracks (with the exception of one song that was being a dick) in two days. That felt crazy because we had spent three years writing the songs for the album and then we had to just squirt them out on tape real quick. When all was said and done it was really hard to listen to the album for a while. It was like an old friend that had suddenly become a stranger. That sounds melodramatic but that’s truly how it felt. But now that some time has passed I enjoy listening to the record and I am proud of it. Lozen just finished recording our next album with Christian Morris at Red Room Studio in Seattle, WA. It was a lot of fun. We got to do a bit of experimenting with this album that we haven’t done in the past and it was very rewarding.

Tom Tom: Do you have anything to say about drumming as a kid, or kids who play drums now?
Hozoji: Absolutely! I teach one kid drum lessons. He and I have been working together for two years. He was 12 when we started. The dude blows my mind on a regular basis with his ability to quickly pick up new techniques and not only execute them, but build and improve upon them. Kids are so quick to learn and adapt because they operate on instinct and imitation. They lack the critical thinking that adults apply when they are creating, and I believe that allows them to create freely and learn rapidly. It’s rad to watch a kid go crazy on a drum kit. That’s true freestyle.

Tom Tom: What do both of your bands have planned for the near future? Are there any other plans you have artistically coming up that you would like to share?
Hozoji: Helms Alee is just chillin’ at the moment. We have a short west coast tour booked in October with a buddy band called Narrows. We just finished shooting footage for a music video that we will be working on for the next few months. We have a few new songs in the works. We mostly want to kick back and enjoy playing/writing in the basement for the rest of 2011. Lozen will be putting out our next album on our homemade record label, Silent Queef Records. It will be Silent Queef’s first release so we have a lot to learn and do over the next few months.

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  1. Hoz is the shit. I saw her play in a basement at the Greenhouse for the first time, and I’ve gone back to see the mighty Helm’s whenever I could (3 or 4 times?). Her intensity pounding the drums, whiskey drinking, and the fact that she spent the few moments she wasn’t playing flipping people off (for fun, not in a mean way) or pantomiming female felicio through her fingers was quite the eye opener. She plays inside the drums. When she’s hitting the skins, I guarantee she’s not thinking about you. She’s releasing a great and primal power within. A woman I would literally die for… but who would probably eat me alive. If I ever have the chance… I’m going to offer to catch her fresh salmon from the river everyday for the rest of our lives.

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